When Father Was Away on Business (1985): Kusturica’s Cannes Film Fest Top Winner and Oscar Nominee

The family drama, When Father Was Away on Business is set in the period of 1950-52, mostly in Sarajevo during a time of desperate confusion.

This internationally acclaimed Serbian feature shows in vivid details what it was like growing up during the reign of Tito, who had made Yugoslavia something of an outlaw state among the Communist nations. Which makes an uneasy political relationship, continuously putting loyalties to the test.

Every event (that is crisis) is seen through the eyes of a six-year-old child, named Malik, who is the narrator.  Malik’s father, Mesha, criticizes a cartoon in the party newspaper, and as punishment is sent to labor camp.

The fact that Mesha’s brother-in-law, a stern, bureaucratic Communist Party official, shares Mesha’s interest in the same young women only seals Mesha’s fate. As a result of his transgression he is sent work in a mine, while the rest of his family is left to manage on its own.

The movie was the surprise winner of the Golden Palm at the 1985 Cannes Film Fest.  Most critics found the movie original, warm, and appealing, laced with the kind of Eastern European humor and humanism.

Directed by the then young (31) Kusturica, it was his only second feature.

Oscar Nominations: 1

The film was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Oscar but did not win; the winner was The Official Story, from Argentine.

Running time: 135 minutes.

Released by Cannon in the U.S.

Kusturica: International Festival Director

Emir Nemanja Kusturica, born November 24, 1954, was only 31 when he made this (his second) feature.  Like other talented directors of his generation, Kusturica studied at the Czech film academy FAMU.won the award.

He has competed at the Cannes Film Fest five times, winning the Palme d’Or twice, for When Father Was Away on Business and for Underground, and the Best Director for Time of the Gypsies.

Kusturica has also won a Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Fest for Arizona Dream and a Silver Lion at the Venice Film Fest for Black Cat, White Cat.